Ghosting In the Machine

This post has nothing to do with Gilbert Ryle, or Arthur Koestler, or the English rock band, The Police. It has to do with something that goes on among Christians far too often within the “machine” we call the “church.”

Benjamin Corey at Patheos has an excellent piece on the practice of Christian “ghosting.” The term refers to  the act of cutting people out of your life overnight without a second glance behind you. If you’ve been “ghosted”, you cease to exist to those involved.

Corey’s article describes how this happened to him in his church fellowship and what the fallout was for him and his family. Once you are labeled, those who disagree with you on any number of issues can then discard you with ease. In many churches, there is no concept of co-existing with those who have divergent views. I’m not talking about views on cardinal doctrine, I am talking about things like gun ownership, length of hair on either gender, clothing choices, types of music listened to, education or vaccines—that sort of thing. Oh, and people will ghost you on secondary or tertiary doctrinal issues as well, like age at baptism, Christian “Sabbath” keeping, election and predestination, etc. etc.

I spoke once, this was about 12 years ago, to a family in the UK. They had helped to found a church in North America that became very large. Their family suffered a terrible wrong at the hands of one of the church members. Because the victimizer was a family member of an elder, the wagons were circled, the perpetrator was protected, and the church family, of one accord, turned on the victim with blame. Both parents took turns on the phone describing the horror of going from church founders,  beloved members of a church community, to pariahs. To be seen at a local mall and to have backs turned on you, people who once supposedly loved and cared for you is devastating. The couple and their family ended up leaving to return to their home in the UK.  It was a multi-layered tragedy., the fallout of which continued through the years in their family.

Lack of love and respect for others within what calls itself Christianity is a recurring theme at this blog. Daily, I am reminded of the damage done when sinful conduct towards others not only goes on, but is even passed off as piety. “We separated from the terrible compromisers!” Or, “We removed the leaven from among us!”  Actually, you attempted to cover the stench of your spiritual rot with the more powerful stench of your sanctimony.  But don’t let that get in the way of your act, ghosters.

The absence of a conscience on these matters is the hallmark of our times.  I often ask myself if those who have “ghosted” our family ever have a thought in the night of what they did.  Do they ever lie awake and feel an ounce of shame? What excuses do they tell themselves to justify what they did when we had done nothing to them? I can say with confidence that they don’t think of it.  If you have love, it compels you to right wrongs. If you fear the Lord in the right way, you can’t leave things unsettled for years on end. Shame, the right kind of shame you feel when you’ve done something bad to someone else, has to kick in at some point, and it makes you yearn for things to be right. That’s if you have a conscience.

It’s odd how the verse in Scripture about the loss of natural affection in the Last Days is frequently used by fundamentalist Christians  to describe things like aborting or otherwise abusing a child, a parent against child, a child against parent. We see this all over the headlines. But the most blatant loss of natural affection for each other as believers is ignored. That’s also a sign of the perilous times the Scriptures speak of.  No shame in treating your fellow Christians badly. No conscience on things that matter most—being right with other people around you.

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again.  The moaning about the exodus of young adults from evangelical and fundamental churches misses the most obvious cause for the departure. The forms of religion continue – but the power of God is gone. Where God’s power is, there is forgiveness. There is love for each other that is not easily wiped out. There is the right kind of tolerance–tolerance that allows the Holy Spirit to do the work in the lives of others,  tolerance that accepts differences of opinion, that doesn’t sit back and judge the motives and tastes of fellow Christians as though we alone have it right on every single issue.

You can mark it down. Wherever there is humility and reconciliation, that is where the Lord is present. Most churches today, I don’t care what stripe or label they claim, are operating by the power of the flesh. That includes many churches that thunder against the moral issues in the world while ignoring the weightier matters of cannibalism within their own ranks. That is why the landscape spiritually is so bleak. Hearts softened by the living Lord are moved to forgive.  They are moved with genuine concern, not about church growth—but about the well being of people.  That’s where healing is. That’s where joy is. And that’s the kind of living Christianity that will attract rather than repel.

The ‘Can’t Talk’ Rule – Red Flags in Abusive Churches

At a time when spiritual abuse in churches is epidemic, being able to spot it when it occurs is crucial. I’ve written a number of posts on this topic, and time and again, I am reminded of why understanding how abusive church leaders operate is important. Abusive leaders all tend to operate with the same play book. The difference between a secular abusive environment and one that is religious is that abusers in high places of a church have some extra tools in their control toolbox to bludgeon those under them into submission. Throughout history, on a grand scale or on a small scale, you can see how corrupt religious leaders make full use of speaking for God in order to consolidate and wield their power. It’s how they roll.

One of the hallmarks of this kind of corruption in churches is the application of the “Can’t Talk Rule.” This rule is best explained by authors David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen in their book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. (See image below.)

That book is just one of the many that spells out, in clearest terms, how these pastors and church boards operate. They fear exposure. More than anything else, these corrupt, prideful leaders fear having the harm they do to others laid bare to the public. The only recourse they see, like so many before them, is to try to crush talk. Spiritual manipulation of a congregation is easy enough. Call it gossip. Call it sin. Rebuke those who speak up for innocent people run off from the church and characterize the cries of those being injured as also being gossip and malicious undermining of church “authority.” It’s all so very easy to do.

Meanwhile, those members who value friendship, history and comfort over what is right and true smugly inform those who are deeply troubled over spiritual leadership that is biblically off the rails that they choose not to get involved. These are the abuse enablers who contribute to the destruction of reputations, faith and families.

The good news is that when a church engages in this conduct – a sign of desperation – they cannot succeed in their growth plans for very long. If churches looked to the political scene alone, they would see that corruption always becomes public eventually. Rot on the inside of any leadership always makes its way outward. It’s only a matter of time. Tick Tock. Those pastors and leaders who behave like crime families should not expect anything but a revolving door of members and staff. Anyone with an ounce of discernment should hit the road when they see this happening. There’s always a reason for it.

Listen for the Hiss

In Genesis the story of Satan’s lies to the first humans is laid out. I have no doubt that the lies were not hissed by the serpent. The voice was probably lovely, beautiful and musical, shimmering with promise and glory.

But beneath that voice was the hiss of the serpent – the fallen angel –  who hated God and who was bound and determined to take down God’s highest creation, humankind.

The same lies that were there in the Garden of Eden are still around today.  (Genesis 3:5) Satan has no new material. It is simply repackaged for each generation by false teachers, the ones warned about in Holy Scripture. (See Christ’s words in Matthew 24:4-5 for just one example.) This is where every distortion and denial of the Gospel comes from in each generation of supposedly Christian churches.  Man is always exalted and lifted up as God, and God is diminished and denied. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s blatant.

This article here by Chad Bird  is an excellent repudiation of this teaching of man’s greatness that can be heard everywhere today, including in many supposedly Christian churches.  The state of our broken planet is not the result of our great fear of embracing our fantastic, all-powerful selves. The state of this shattered planet is the result of spiritual rebellion against God. Sin. And that’s why we needed Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice on Calvary.

Any so-called teacher, celebrity or otherwise, who is spreading the glories of man as savior, is at war with the heart of the Gospel message.  They are at war with God himself.  Their Gospel is not “watered down.” It is the anti-Gospel.  Listen for the hiss underneath the smooth talk. And then, as Chad Bird says so well, look to God instead.

 

 

 

 

Widow: Church Doesn’t Need Any More Coffee Bars

This article linked below by Kimberli Lira needs very little introduction. When you face your darkest hour, it doesn’t matter how cool the real estate is in the church, how hip and how culturally relevant it seeks to be.  As this young mother writes so well,  you need Jesus.  The foolish American evangelical church misses the point of why they exist.

“Church leaders remember that you are not just trying to attract the hip and the cool to your church. You are reaching widows. You are reaching children who don’t have a parent. You are reaching someone battling with a disease. You are reaching a person going through a divorce. You are reaching a businessman who thinks they have all that they need. You are reaching the hurting. And the only thing they need is Jesus.”  Full article here.